They made it official yesterday – the Pentax K-01 compact mirrorless system camera is for real. It has a brand-new, large 16-megapixel APS-C sensor, a 3-inch 921k-dot LCD display and full HD video with selectable frame rates, including 60 frames per second at 720p. Those features alone make the new The Pentax K-01 (pronounced ‘kay- zero-one’) solid competition for other mirrorless camera systems. What makes the Kay Zero One different is the lens mount and the camera’s emphasis on design (hands-on video, below). Instead of making a new mount for the K-01, Pentax decided to use their standard K-mount, making the camera compatible with “25+ million PENTAX K-mount lenses spanning decades.” And instead of designing the K-01 in-house, Pentax commissioned world-renowned industrial designer Marc Newson, “the most acclaimed and influential designer of his generation.” Mr. Newson has designed everything from furniture to yachts but as far as I know, this is his first camera design.
More photos at end of article.
The Pentax K-01 certainly has a distinctive look – especially Newson’s “signature yellow” model (it also comes in black and white). Beneath the rounded, boxy, rubber-textured exterior is a chunky, machined aluminum chassis. But it’s what’s inside that really matters – at least to me. I’m referring to the new 16-megapixel APS-C sensor and new “PRIME M” imaging engine. The large APS-C sensor, at least in theory, puts the Pentax K-01’s image quality on par with the Sony NEX and Samsung NX mirrorless cameras. Of course, we’ll have to wait for samples to judge the actual image quality. But the sensor size and resolution are neck-to-neck with the Sony NEX-5N, a camera with excellent image quality. On the other hand, the larger sensor and K-mount lens mount make the camera larger than most of the competition, minimizing one of the main benefits of a mirrorless camera. In fact, the Pentax K-01 body is as close in size to a mid-range digital SLR as it is to other mirrorless cameras. However, Pentax didn’t have to create a whole new line of lenses for the K-01 and the large APS-C sensor makes it a pretty sure bet that it will have excellent image quality compared to other compact system cameras.
Pentax K-01 Key Features and Specs:
- New 16-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
- Lens: K-mount for legacy lens compatibility
- New “RIME M” imaging engine
- Sensor-shift SR Shake Reduction for image stabilization with all lenses
- 1920 x 1080 full HD video with 24, 25 and 30 FPS as well as 60 FPS at 720p
- Built-in stereo mic with audio levels control
- 3-inch 921k-dot LCD display
- Sensitivity: ISO 100 to 12,800 – expandable to ISO 25,600
- DNG RAW
- Focus peaking for manual focus
- 6 frames per second high-speed burst
- Built-in, adjustable HDR mode
- Machined aluminum frame
- Unique deign by Marc Newson
Check out the video below for a really good, hands-on look at a pre-production model of the new Pentax K-01, including a bit of back and forth about the design. One interesting tidbit in the video is the suggestion that the Pentax K-01’s new sensor is supposed to have better image quality than the Pentax K-5 digital SLR:
Video specs have become almost as important as the still photography performance of cameras now. And the Pentax K-01 has solidly competitive video specs – at least it does in the eyes of this video novice. It’s got 1920 x 1080 full HD video with selectable frame rates, including 60 frames per second at 720p for slow motion action clips. Manual exposure control is available in movie mode and a built-in stereo mic with audio levels control as well as an external stereo mic input. It even has an interval drive mode that can shoot stills at intervals from 1 second up to 24 hours for creating lapse videos.
Pentax packed a lot into the K-01. Some of the other cool features are a 6 frames per second high-speed burst mode; built-in, adjustable HDR selectable right from the mode dial; Pentax’s sensor-level SR Shake Reduction, which gives you mechanical image stabilization no matter what lens you use on the K-01; multiple exposure mode (up to 9 frames); focus peaking for super-accurate manual focus; and 11 Custom Image modes and 19 digital filters for creative in-camera effects. For advanced photographers, the K-01 has a full range of exposure modes, including full manual, aperture priority and shutter priority. For less experienced photographers there’s the Auto Picture mode, “which selects the most appropriate shooting mode for a given subject or scene… while optimizing all camera settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, white balance, saturation, contrast and sharpness.” One thing the Pentax K-01 doesn’t have is an electronic (EVF) or optical viewfinder. Most other compact system cameras that don’t have a built-in EVF have an accessory port of some sort where an optional EVF can be added. But I don’t see any evidence of an accessory port on the K-01 body or in the camera specs. It looks like photographers who use the K-01 will be limited to the LCD display for composing photos and shooting video – not so great for action photographers or videographers, who really benefit from having an eye-level viewfinder.
Pentax took some heat when they introduced the diminutive Q interchangeable lens camera (Pentax Q article), which uses a tiny point-and-shoot camera sensor. It was cute, but not really what most photographers wanted. The K-01 should redeem them. However, in Japan, there is a market for small cameras like the Pentax Q. It’s we Westerners who aren’t so interested in tiny cameras. There’s also a market in Japan for creative and colorful gadget design. So even if some of us in the US and Europe don’t quite know what to think about the K-01’s Marc Newson design, chances are it will be quite popular in Asia.
To go with the new camera, Pentax also had Marc Newson design a new prime lens. The smc Pentax-DA 40mm f/2.8 XS is currently, “the world’s thinnest interchangeable lens.” The lens is so thin that in the Pentax-supplied product photos it almost looks like the lens is inset into the camera body. With the APS-C sensor’s crop factor, the new lens is equivalent to a 61mm lens in the 35mm / ff format.
So what’s the bottom line with the new Pentax K-01? First of all, until we can actually get the camera in our hands, we’re just speculating based on the press release and specs. I really want to see high-res image samples. It does look like Pentax put a lot of thought and effort into the K-01, though. The 16-megapixel APS-C sensor is top-shelf spec and the design, while a little different, actually looks pretty good to me. I like the solid, machined aluminum top plate and mode dial and the camera has a solid, hefty look for a mirrorless camera. Personally, I don’t care about Marc Newson’s signature yellow color or having his name on the camera (yes, his brand / signature is on the bottom). But if the Newson design attracts more buyers for the K-01, that’s great for Pentax and more business for Pentax means more competition and more competition is ultimately good for photographers. The most interesting thing about the camera is the decision to go with the K-mount. On the one hand, it makes the camera bigger than it would have been with a new mount and new lenses. On the other hand, the value of legacy compatibility with all K-mount lenses cannot be overstated. As I quoted earlier, from the official release, the Pentax K-01 is, “compatible with 25+ million PENTAX K-mount lenses spanning decades.” And there’s no adapter necessary to use any of those K-mount lenses. If you’ve got a bag full of old Pentax lenses, that’s a pretty compelling reason to buy a K-01.
The Pentax K-01 will be available in black, white and yellow and should be in stores March of 2012. The suggested price for the body is US $749.95. It will also be available in two kits, one with the new 40mm f/2.8 prime for $899.95; and the other will include 18-55mm and 50-200mm zoom lenses and sell for $999.95.